When they visited Katsura, she had a half-dozen other customers, all likewise preparing for the same party. She ignored them all to rush over to Miro and pick his brain for the details of Sun Etherium celebratory fashions. Ardent suspected Katsura’s eagerness to assist was more out of a desire to amass clothing ideas than anything else. She was surprised by Miro’s willingness to supply the information, even knowing that the ultimate result would be used to degrade his Etherium. Then again, he doesn’t have much reason to love Sun Etherium. Maybe it’s better to feel that it’s Sun Etherium we’re insulting, and not him, personally.
Ardent did not feel much better about any of this, herself.
After Miro had been dressed to his and Katsura’s satisfaction, they had a little time left before the party. Just enough time to fret, and not enough to do anything useful. Ardent took them back to her tower rooms anyway.
She took a seat at her dining table and summoned her storage locket from the jewelry box in the bedroom. Even in the Moon Etherium, space could not be infinitely compressed or expanded. Living beings could not be compressed to less than a thirtieth of their length, give or take. Living spaces were rarely expanded by more than a factor of ten or twenty, to avoid forcing the expansion of fey shifted into smaller forms. Nonliving objects, however, could be squashed much smaller by those with the expertise for such. Ardent’s locket had been designed to take a quarter of a square inch of space and turn it into almost two square yards. When its cover was open, the locket shrank things as they approached its opening, but it still required a bit of jiggling and finesse to place oversized objects inside or fish them out of it. So she put the things she wanted to keep on her in her shoulder bag: Jinokimijin’s notebook, the Ocyale mirror, the tracer golem, the book on channeling, and messages she wanted for reference later. Then she stuffed the bag into the locket and slipped it around her neck, with a bit of glamour to make it match her party outfit.
Miro sat to one side of her and watched in silence until she finished the rearrangement. “Did you want to channel before we go? In case something comes up and you need it.”
Ardent compressed her lips. She certainly did want to, but – “I dunno, sugar.” She reached across the corner of the table to brush back a lock of his hair. It was absurdly long and white-blonde again, in aether-prescribed order, and fell back into place at once. “I don’t want to get you drunk just before you’ll need all your wits about you.”
The Sun prince rested his cheek against her hand. “Perhaps just a little? Enough to relax?” he pleaded. His ears pinkened. “I’m afraid,” he said, softly, and closed his eyes.
She wondered what that admission cost him. Her fingers shifted lower, to feel the pulse in his throat, steady but rapid. “All right, sugar.” Ardent rose with him, then knelt before him, the long skirt of her gown bunching around her legs. She gathered him close and rested her head against his chest to listen to his heartbeat. “Fifteen heartbeats.”
“Better make it twenty.” Miro cradled her head with one arm, careful not to muss the elaborate net of braids Interlude had twisted it into. “It’s running like a rabbit’s.”
“Then slow it down,” she teased him. He took a deep breath and melted against her. To Ardent’s surprise, his pulse did slow perceptibly. “How do you do that without aether?”
“If you have to use aether to hide your weakness, you’ve already betrayed that you are weak,” Miro said, quietly.
She squeezed him a little closer, nuzzling with her cheek, and breathed open the channel. Fifteen heartbeats still came and went too quickly, but she closed the channel on the fifteenth anyway. She didn’t let him go. He didn’t try to draw away. They stayed like that for some minutes afterwards. “Thank you,” Miro said, at last.
“Heh. This ain’t a sacrifice, sugar.” Reluctantly, Ardent rose to her hooves and released him. She flicked aether over her dress reflexively to smooth it.
“Then for the rest of it.” He lifted his chin as she touched his collar, and spun a chain of white gold off of it. It linked to a bracelet about her own wrist. “For returning to Moon Etherium. For helping me and my father. For caring. Thank you.”
Ardent swallowed, and squinted at him. “You sure I didn’t take too much and get you drunk?”
He smiled, and offered his hand. “Pretty sure. Shall we?”
She took it, and they vanished.
Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.